The reign of women artisans of India

The rich land of art, culture, creativity – India’s contribution to the world in lending its Art & Culture is huge. One such industry we impact is the Handicrafts we produce. What started as a hobby for housewives in small cities umpteenth years ago, has led itself to being one of the most important sectors in the country’s economy employing over seven million people making India one of the leading export destinations.

Leaders > Labourers

According to the International Trade Centre, women make up for 70% of the global handicraft workforce. It states, ‘In some countries, such as India and Bangladesh, women make up more than 80% of the handicraft workforce. Moreover, handicrafts are often a significant source of income for women, particularly in rural areas where there are few other economic opportunities.’

However, that may not be playing optimally because there are still many barriers preventing them to be the leaders and entrepreneurs they deserve to be. With lack of access to resources, proper education, training on leveraging their art as a source of income & security, they are struggling as labourers slowly losing the fight to standardization, let alone the constant reminder of gender roles & cultural constraints they are subjected to.

‘Vocal for Local: A Wake Up Call ’

Had they the awareness & an education to represent themselves in avenues, trade fairs, establish an online presence, they would compete in the global market as brand owners they deserve to be.

In lieu of this, the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ was launched to empower local artisans to manufacture locally and launched a ‘vocal for local’ call for citizens to invest in & promote Indian craftsmanship. Subsequently, an e-commerce platform was also launched by the Ministry of Textiles to leverage 4,00,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs) that were primarily set up to offer e-services in remote areas with limited access to internet. This partnership with India Post was done to enable artisans to go online with their products and become competitive.

But naturally, the resistance stems from lack of training.

Educate a Woman, Educate a Nation, By All Means

Despite the contribution to the economy and being a favourable export destination, Indian handloom weavers bring home less than INR5000/month as per All India Handloom Census.

E-commerce: With digitization sweeping over industries, especially post the pandemic, it should be a blasphemy to not build our e-commerce portfolio. Unfortunately, Indian artisans are largely missing from the scene.

As per a survey by Digital Empowerment Foundation

(DEF), approximately 20% of 2000+ artisans have received any training in digital selling. Inaccessibility, language barriers, limited entrepreneurial skills amongst other reasons lead to them losing out big. We need to close this gap.

Further, they are either bogged down by the e-commerce giants or unable to pay the expensive fees to multiple avenues at the same time to increase their visibility. To tackle these issues, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry launched an ONDC, The Open Network for Digital Commerce initiative to help & encourage artisans for digital selling. It’s more like an online market and community-led network that displays products and services from all participating e-commerce platforms that are a part of its network. This is especially beneficial for small artisans.

Upskilling/training: That the game will change once we train & upskill women artisans is undeniable, but why and how is the question.

With a humungous representation of women in this industry, uplifting them as a society will not only break through the age-old gender discrimination but also help them find financial security and social inclusion. One way is to expose them to the microfinance programs that provides them with the financial resources they need to start their own businesses. Tsraining programs can support them with the skills they need to produce high-quality handicrafts.

Further, mentorship programs can connect women to a pool of experienced artisans who can help them in rising in the industry.
Here’s the most important factor in this initiative – Eradicate the gender-based discrimination at their homes for them to realize their whole potential. This isn’t an easy task but not impossible and can be tackled with education, policies and opening a channel for them to seek & get help when they can. Further, collective action, the support of communities & cooperatives will help them polish their negotiation power & prepare them for the competition in the global market, eventually.

Venture capitalists: A report called ‘Landscape Study on Women Entrepreneurship” highlighted how the number of women business owners are set to increase by 90% in India over the next 05 years.

However, as per an article, only 1.5% of the startup funding in the nation goes to businesses with female founders due to which some venture capitalists dedicated funds to women-focussed businesses. This will be a game changer not only to promote talent but also better the lives of so many women artisans who uplift the rural communities massively.

Be Their Allies, not a Roadblock

Over the years, many seekers have moved base to urban cities but still stuck in the loop of being lowly paid. To support this cause, government offers various schemes to support artisans, some such are Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojna, Mega cluster scheme, Marketing support and services scheme, Research & Development scheme etc.

All these programmes work on community empowerment by helping the artisans with human resource infrastructure, technological & healthcare support, financial assistance, equipping them with new industry developments etc. They also aid them in representing themselves in marketing events in India along with instilling an R&D arm where they can come & share their feedback basis which they offer help where needed.

In conclusion, history is testimony to the fact how investing in is the most effective way to tackle poverty & help a family be healthy, wealthy and create better communities. Yes, India is making strides becoming one of the leading & lucrative export destinations globally. So, this is the time to help women artisans, the backbone of the industry to emerge on the scene as leaders, entrepreneurs and not be limited to just being the invisible artists working behind-the-scenes delivering the growing export orders but represent the country & its brilliant Art forms.

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